Detained Children: Part I

Jul 16, 2018

June 25, 2018

I have felt as concerned as many of you about what we can do to be helpful with the current situation regarding detained families and separation of children from their parents. As of yesterday, June 20, President Trump has signed a new policy that prevents separation of children from parents at the borders. However, there is no clear plan for detainees currently in custody. Over 2000 infants, toddlers, children, and adolescents are currently being held in residential arrangements of various types.

The political discussion about responsibility for this mess goes on and on. As always, the politics are debatable and inconclusive. The political debate appears to offer no immediate solution for these children or their families. What I do know is that this problem of detention, congregate living, and separation presents a host of health issues unfamiliar to many of us.

Thus, I have reached out to several colleagues from around the IHP to provide us with current thinking on a number of issues that should concern all of us, especially those who will be caring for these children. Reading through the contributions of our colleagues makes me proud of the capability and insight of those with whom we work. At the same time, reading this makes me worry for the future of these young children and their families. I will start posting these contributions daily and invite you to read, share with your students, and extend a thank you to the writers.

Finally, if you would like to contribute to this blog on a topic I may have overlooked, don't be shy. Send me your contribution and I will happily post it. This appears to be a small step that we can take today. This is a health problem and education is almost always the answer.

General Health Concerns

Prepared by Dr. Patrice Nicholas, School of Nursing

The American Public Health Association released a statement on June 15, 2018 entitled Separating Parents and Children at US Border Is Inhumane and Sets the Stage for a Public Health Crisis. The statement notes that the Trump administration’s policy of separating parents and children at the U.S. and Mexico border will negatively affect the detained children and their health, both now and into the future. 

"As public health professionals we know that children living without their parents face immediate and long-term health consequences. Risks include the acute mental trauma of separation, the loss of critical health information that only parents would know about their children’s health status, and in the case of breastfeeding children, the significant loss of maternal child bonding essential for normal development. Parents’ health would also be affected by this unjust separation.”

"More alarming is the interruption of these children’s chance at achieving a stable childhood. Decades of public health research have shown that family structure, stability and environment are key social determinants of a child’s and a community’s health.”

"Furthermore, this practice places children at heightened risk of experiencing adverse childhood events and trauma, which research has definitively linked to poorer long-term health. Negative outcomes associated with adverse childhood events include some of society’s most intractable health issues: alcoholism, substance misuse, depression, suicide, poor physical health and obesity.”

View the full text of the statement.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. ACEs are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance misuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) addresses the health consequences associated with ACEs.

ACEs include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

For the children detained in the current circumstances, they are experiencing parental separation, incarcerated household member, and their own incarcerated circumstances in “tender camps” which are tantamount to serving in jails/cages.

View the full text of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on ACEs.

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